Women: anti-war softies or pro-war nags?

Robert Dreyfuss has an ill-advised piece at The Nation in which he tries to pin US intervention in Libya on the gender of Obama’s advisors – namely that three women pushed for military action:

We’d like to think that women in power would somehow be less pro-war, but in the Obama administration at least it appears that the bellicosity is worst among Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power. All three are liberal interventionists, and all three seem to believe that when the United States exercises military force it has some profound, moral, life-saving character to it. Far from it. Unless President Obama’s better instincts manage to reign in his warrior women—and happily, there’s a chance of that—the United States could find itself engaged in open war in Libya, and soon.

First we get the “women are more peaceful” stereotype, but since that doesn’t work here Dreyfuss shifts over to women as war-loving nags pushing against President Obama’s more rational instincts. As I’ve said before, women are expected to fit into one tiny box – virgin or whore, or in this case pacifist or war monger. Whatever the case, this one role is all we can be whereas men can be understood as complex, rational beings with multiple views. It’s tired, pointless sexism that undermines what could have been a strong critique of the motivations for intervention.

Dreyfuss isn’t the only one deploying this ridiculous argument, though he’s notable for being a lefty when this line’s mostly coming from the right. And it’s incredibly popular right now, the narrative of a hen-pecked president pushed into war by his female advisors. Amanda Marcotte’s take on this line of thinking that makes a lot of (non) sense to me:

During times when Republicans are in charge, the formulation is simple: Support for Republicans + support for foreign wars allows many a conservative man to feel satisfied in his manhood. But when Democrats are in charge, it’s just so hard to handle the cognitive dissonance! The desire to level-up in manhood by having other people put themselves in danger to kill foreigners competes directly with the fear that supporting a Democrat in any way will make you erupt into vaginas. The solution is to paint the war as not a real, manly kind of war.

Katha Pollitt offers a mostly on-point rebuttal to Dreyfuss today:

Whatever you think of the action against Qaddafi—count me as extremely apprehensive—it might just be that someone, even a woman, could support it for a reason other than sheer viciousness…

In any case, the fact that three women argued for it skillfully and won their point is not very interesting. So why stress it, except that it mobilizes a raft of misogynist tropes about castrating females, the dangers of petticoat government and the folly of expecting anything good to come out of gender equality?


Sadly, I do feel I have to call out the off-note with which Pollitt ends an otherwise solid take down:

After all, can you imagine a piece in The Nation titled “Black President Opts for Bombs” or “Qaddafi, a Man, Threatens to Massacre Rebels, Most of Whom Are Also Men”?

Misogyny—it’s the last acceptable prejudice of the left.

No. Please stop. Saying sexism’s more accepted than racism doesn’t help sell your argument or make the sexism seem any more serious, it just demonstrates a lack of knowledge about racism – and, with the sweeping “last acceptable prejudice” comment, every other -ism plaguing us. It’s a tactic I see used way too often, especially by white feminists and white LGBT folks, and it needs to end.

Boston, MA

Jos Truitt is Executive Director of Development at Feministing. She joined the team in July 2009, became an Editor in August 2011, and Executive Director in September 2013. She writes about a range of topics including transgender issues, abortion access, and media representation. Jos first got involved with organizing when she led a walk out against the Iraq war at her high school, the Boston Arts Academy. She was introduced to the reproductive justice movement while at Hampshire College, where she organized the Civil Liberties and Public Policy Program’s annual reproductive justice conference. She has worked on the National Abortion Federation’s hotline, was a Field Organizer at Choice USA, and has volunteered as a Pro-Choice Clinic Escort. Jos has written for publications including The Guardian, Bilerico, RH Reality Check, Metro Weekly, and the Columbia Journalism Review. She has spoken and trained at numerous national conferences and college campuses about trans issues, reproductive justice, blogging, feminism, and grassroots organizing. Jos completed her MFA in Printmaking at the San Francisco Art Institute in Spring 2013. In her "spare time" she likes to bake and work on projects about mermaids.

Jos Truitt is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Development.

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